US President Donald Trump has found himself at the centre of several controversies throughout his presidential tenure. These have ranged from allegations of racism, collusion with Russia to influence elections, and tax issues. The most recent one involves reports of pitching a quid pro quo to the current Ukrainian President which has led to an impeachment inquiry. Here is the latest Trump impeachment update.
On September 24th 2019, US House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, began the current impeachment inquiry against the President. By the end of October 2019, the House had voted to make the accusation hearings public. The latest Trump impeachment update revolves around numerous witness statements shedding light on the President’s alleged abuse of office to obtain dirt on one of his rivals, Joe Biden, in the upcoming election.
House Republicans argue that while Trump’s actions are disturbing, they do not amount to impeachable offences. The Democrats, on the other hand, posit that under the rule of law, the President’s actions amount to the impeachable offence of abuse of power. Is Trump getting impeached? If he is, the US Senate would then be tasked with holding a trial to either vote him out or keep him in office.
Trump impeachment timeline
Here is a look into the series of events that have led to the current state of affairs in the Donald Trump impeachment inquiry.
April to May 2019
Around this time, the President is alleged to have used his attorney (Rudy Giuliani) to pressure Ukraine into making an announcement concerning Joe Biden and Hunter Biden. The President reportedly wanted the country to make it public that the two were under investigation. Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the sitting Ukrainian President, convened a meeting with his assistants to come up with a way of staying out of the brewing scandal.
1st to mid-July
Trump’s envoys meet with top-ranking Ukrainians at the White House. In the meeting, Trump’s aides ask their Ukrainian counterparts to investigate Joe Biden. National security officials present at the meeting are shocked by the bizarre request. After this, the National Security Advisor shelves the meeting terming it as a ‘drug deal.’
Mid to end of July
The US Office of Management of the Budget reaches out to the Pentagon and State Department with information about Trump suspending Ukraine’s military aid. On July 25th 2019, the US President talks to the Ukrainian President (Zelenskiy) reminding him how good the US has been to his country. He then proceeds to ask Zelenskiy for a favour. He needs his country to paint Joe Biden in a bad light and make the US general public doubt the possibilities of Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
1st to mid-August
During this period, several top Ukrainian officials find out about the suspension of military aid to the tune of $391 million. The money was apparently meant for facilitating Ukraine’s defence against Russian forces. Around this time, a complaint is sent to the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community by a whistleblower. The President’s administration makes efforts to bar Congress from getting access to the whistleblower complaint for more than a month.
The US and Ukraine hold bilateral talks involving top officials in Poland. The US President’s representative, Gordon Sondland, makes it clear to his Ukrainian counterpart that the suspended military aid would only be released if the country commits to pursuing the Burisma issue. Burisma is the name of the company that previously employed Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son.
At this point, the acting US Ambassador to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, tells Sondland that it is crazy to deny another nation military aid for the sole purpose of obtaining political favour.
Mid-September to September 25th
Ukraine’s suspended military aid is released. On 24th of the same month, the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, announces the inquiry team against Donald Trump. She states that the President betrayed the integrity of elections, the oath of office and national security through his actions. On September 25th, the President’s administration releases part of a transcript of the call between the two heads of state (America and Ukraine) hours before the two met at a United Nations meeting.
September 26th to October 8th
The whistleblower complaint forwarded to the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community is eventually released to the public. The complaint mentions several American officials as well as a concise version of the telephone call between the two national leaders (Ukraine and America). The whistleblower complaint also sheds light into efforts by the White House to keep details of the phone call secret.
On October 4th, former US envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, testifies in the impeachment inquiry. On October 8th, the White House writes a letter to refuse any cooperation with the inquiry. The White House, instead, accuses House Democrats of creating a plan to reverse the 2016 election outcome.
Fiona Hill, the then senior NSC director for Russia and Europe, testifies. In her testimony, she speaks of a shadow foreign policy that operates in Ukraine with Rudy Giuliani at the helm of it. She also describes the events of the July 10th White House meeting. On October 17th, the US Ambassador to the European Union testifies saying that he believed the President when he said there was absolutely no quid pro quo with Ukraine.
On October 22nd, the acting US Ambassador to Ukraine makes his testimony. He talks about an irregular foreign policy that the current administration was running in Ukraine. Based on Bill's statement, this is the channel through which the administration pursues goals that are not in line with the American policy.
On October 29th, Alexander Vindman makes his testimony. He is the current Director for European Affairs for the United States National Security Council. Vindman describes his shock upon learning how the current White House was willing to ignore policy in its pursuit of Donald’s agenda. He also states how he reached out to the top NSC lawyer with his concerns. On October 31st, the House of Representatives moves the inquiry to open public hearings.
On the last day of October, Tom Morrison, the NSC Director for Russian affairs testifies. He promises to resign from his position after his testimony.
Gordon Sondland testifies for the second time, this time revising his testimony to state that he did remember a quid pro quo with the Ukrainian President. He then says that he does not remember any other details from the period in question, including the number of times he talked with the President over the phone.
Bill Taylor’s testimony is published. In the statement, the acting US Ambassador to Ukraine mentions two officials in the current administration, who said that the President would not ‘sign a check’ for almost four hundred million dollars in military aid to Ukraine until the nation honoured its end of the proposed deal.
The Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, George Kent, testifies. Bill Taylor also testifies, shedding light into the multiple US foreign policy channels that were in effect in Ukraine. The first is what he termed as the regular channel through which he interacted with members of the National Security Council. The second ‘irregular’ channel included the likes of Mick Mulvaney and Rudy Giuliani.
The impeachment inquiry committee listens to testimony from Marie Yovanovitch, the former US Ambassador to Ukraine. According to Marie, Donald’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, worked closely with Ukraine nationals who were unhappy with her behaviour. She said that corrupt Ukraine nationals who sought to remove her found Americans willing to partner with them and together, they were able to orchestrate her removal from office as Ambassador.
Gordon Sondland is called to testify again, this time delivering a concise and damning account of how things went down. He states that top-ranking officials working on the Ukraine-US foreign policy at the US State Department and the White House ‘knew what was being done and why’. In his opening statement, he says that there was indeed a quid pro quo between the two presidents.
In the most recent impeachment news, Fiona Hill, the former senior director for Europe and Russia at the National Security Council, testified. David Holmes also made his testimony. Holmes is an official at the American embassy in Ukraine.
Here is a look at the key witnesses who have been deposed as well as the important parts of their testimonies.
- Marie Yovanovitch: Marie was the US Ambassador to Ukraine before her abrupt recall by the President in May 2019. During Donald’s phone call with Zelenskiy, he termed Marie as ‘bad news.’ She explains how the President had apparently lost confidence in her resulting in her removal from office. The former Ambassador expressed her shock upon learning that Trump’s attorney was trying to ruin her reputation and get her ousted.
- Gordon Sondland: Sondland seemed to attempt to distance himself from the President’s actions in his testimony. What is arguably the most crucial part of Sondland’s testimony is his confirmation that the President pitched his Ukrainian counterpart a quid pro quo to carry out investigations on his political adversary. He expressed his disappointment with Donald for conducting national policy issues through his lawyer.
- Kurt Volker: Volker is a former US special envoy to Ukraine. After his resignation, he provided texts to congressional investigators revealing an attempt to strike a deal between the US and Ukrainian Presidents. Under the proposed agreement, Zelenskiy would get invited to the White House and then make a public announcement that his country was investigating the 2016 election tampering allegations.
- Fiona Hill: The former senior director for Europe and Russia at the National Security Council testified that John Bolton was worried about pushing Ukraine to investigate Biden. Bolton, the former US national security adviser, was so shocked that he asked a senior government official to flag White House attorneys about the shadowy dealings. She reported that Bolton described Donald's attorney as ‘a hand grenade who is going to blow up everyone’ stating that he was not a party to ‘the drug deal that Mulvaney and Rudy were cooking up.’
- Michael McKinley: He is the former senior adviser to Mike Pompeo. In his testimony, he stated that the Secretary of State ignored his requests to support Marie Yovanovitch after her removal from office for what seemed like political reasons. He also expressed his disgust at the President’s description of Marie as bad news in the plot to gather dirt on Joe Biden.
- George Kent: The Deputy Assistant Secretary of State testified in the impeachment Trump inquiry stating how he was kept out of all matters involving Ukraine. This was done despite Kent being in charge of the country’s policies in the US. He said that his alienation from the Ukrainian affairs came after a May meeting, which was led by Mick Mulvaney.
Here is a list of other high-ranking people who have testified so far in the inquiry that may or may not get Trump impeached.
- Army Lt Col Alexander Vindman: Director for European Affairs for the United States National Security Council
- Bill Taylor: Acting US Ambassador to Ukraine
- Catherine Croft: State Department Adviser on Ukraine
- Christopher Anderson: Foreign Service officer
- David Hale: Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
- Joseph Maguire: Acting Director of National Intelligence
- Laura Cooper: Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia
- Michael Atkinson: Inspector General of the Intelligence Community
- Philip Reeker: Acting Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs
- Tim Morrison: Former official at the National Security Council
Is Trump going to be impeached?
What is arguably the most critical question regarding the ongoing hearings is whether Trump will be impeached. Underlying this concern is another question, can Trump be impeached? The answer is yes. The US constitution states that a President and the Vice-President can be impeached for ‘treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours.’
Will Trump get impeached? It is hard to tell for now, but to impeach Donald Trump, articles of impeachment would need to be forwarded to House’s Judicial Committee. Since the Democrats have a majority vote there, the entire House would also be asked to vote, and the censure would only require a simple majority.
However, Trump's impeachment would still not be complete without a two-thirds majority vote by the Senate to get him out of office. Without this, the move to impeach Trump would flop, and he would go back to the White House and vie for re-election. Much of the recent Trump impeachment news has been about possible voting decisions in both houses. If the Senate votes along party lines, then the President’s term in office will be spared.
The ongoing inquiry is undoubtedly among the most interesting political happenings currently. Will Trump be impeached? It seems like it is too early to predict this correctly. However, once the hearings are complete, then the next phase will unfold more clearly. We can only wait for upcoming Trump impeachment update briefings.